The possibility of a new era of development on the African continent is now on the horizon after the AU launched the AfCFTA at the AU summit in Niger. Supplied

JOHANNESBURG – The possibility of a new era of development on the African continent is now on the horizon after the African Union (AU) launched the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) at the AU summit in Niger on Sunday.

This development could include uniting 1.3 billion people and creating a $3.4 trillion, 55-nation economic bloc with its future headquarters to be hosted in Ghana, Al Jazeera reported.

The launch of the bloc, following an agreement reached by African leaders in March after four-years of talks, will make it the largest economic bloc since the creation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1994.

While discussions are underway on how AfCFTA will operate there are high hopes that its establishment will boost intra-regional trade, strengthen supply chains, and help develop Africa’s economic potential.

"The eyes of the world are turned towards Africa," Egyptian President and AU Chairman Abdel Fattah El Sisi said at the summit's opening ceremony.

"The success of AfCFTA will be the real test to achieve the economic growth that will turn our people's dream of welfare and quality of life into a reality," he said.

The continent’s intra-regional trade only accounted for 17 percent of exports in 2017 compared to 59 percent in Asia and 69 percent in Europe.

There are also significant challenges ahead including poor road and rail links, large areas of unrest, excessive border bureaucracy, and petty corruption that have held back growth and integration.

African News Agency (ANA)